Few campaign finance cases have drawn more public attention than the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC.1 The Court's invalidation of a sixty-year-old federal law-and comparable laws in two dozen states2-banning corporations from engaging in independent spending in support of or opposition to candidates strongly affirms the right of corporations to engage in electoral advocacy. Critics-and most, albeit not all, of both the popular and academic commentary on the decision has been critical-have condemned the idea that corporations enjoy the same rights to spend on elections as natural persons. As one satirical YouTube video suggested, the logical follow-on to the Citizens United decision is to have a corporation run for election to Congress.3 As the corporate "candidate's" website proclaims, "Corporations are people,too!"4 Following closely on the heels of massive multi-billion dollar bailouts for financial institutions and major automobile manufacturers, the Citizens United decision crystallized for many people the concern that corporate money dominates American politics.
Although anxiety about the role of corporate money in politics may be well-founded, the impact of Citizens United may ultimately have less to do with corporate spending and more with the changes the decision could lead to in other areas of campaign finance-including areas that the Court itself insisted were not at issue in the case. Prior to Citizens United, corporations were already able to spend virtually as much as they wanted in connection with elections, due in part to a prior decision of the Supreme Court that received far less attention. Moreover, even though Citizens United overturned two Court precedents, the decision actually follows from the main lines of the Court's campaign finance jurisprudence. The decision was predictable, even if not inevitable. To the extent that observers were shocked by the decision, they simply had not been paying attention to the Court's earlier cases.
Corporations, Corruption, and Complexity: Campaign Finance after Citizens United,
Cornell J. L. & Pub. Pol'y.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/913